November 23, 2015

Do you have a smartphone? Do you watch TV? You might want to reconsider that combination

Filed under: India, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Register, Iain Thomson explains a new sneaky way for unscrupulous companies to snag your personal data without your knowledge or consent:

Earlier this week the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) warned that an Indian firm called SilverPush has technology that allows adverts to ping inaudible commands to smartphones and tablets.

Now someone has reverse-engineered the code and published it for everyone to check.

SilverPush’s software kit can be baked into apps, and is designed to pick up near-ultrasonic sounds embedded in, say, a TV, radio or web browser advert. These signals, in the range of 18kHz to 19.95kHz, are too high pitched for most humans to hear, but can be decoded by software.

An application that uses SilverPush’s code can pick up these messages from the phone or tablet’s builtin microphone, and be directed to send information such as the handheld’s IMEI number, location, operating system version, and potentially the identity of the owner, to the application’s backend servers.

Imagine sitting in front of the telly with your smartphone nearby. An advert comes on during the show you’re watching, and it has a SilverPush ultrasonic message embedded in it. This is picked up by an app on your mobile, which pings a media network with information about you, and could even display followup ads and links on your handheld.

How it works ... the transfer of sound-encoded information from a TV to a phone to a backend server

How it works … the transfer of sound-encoded information from a TV to a phone to a backend server

“This kind of technology is fundamentally surreptitious in that it doesn’t require consent; if it did require it then the number of users would drop,” Joe Hall, chief technologist at CDT told The Register on Thursday. “It lacks the ability to have consumers say that they don’t want this and not be associated by the software.”

Hall pointed out that very few of the applications that include the SilverPush SDK tell users about it, so there was no informed consent. This makes such software technically illegal in Europe and possibly in the US.

November 13, 2015

The Making Of Thunderbirds

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Jan 2014

Thunderbirds Documentary. Step into the twisted mind of Gerry Anderson, and see how he makes Thunderbirds. F.A.B. A favorite show from my childhood with more information than I ever wanted.

H/T to The Arts Mechanical for the link.

November 12, 2015

“Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower”

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor talks to Camille Paglia:

Not long after she had splashed onto the scene with the publication of her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and followed that up with an essay in The New York Times claiming that Madonna was the future of feminism, I went to see Camille Paglia speak on a panel about political correctness at New York University. My recollection is of being frisked by armed guards before being allowed to enter the auditorium, but it’s more likely we just had to empty our pockets and go through a metal detector. That I thought the extra protection was for the professor from a small arts college in Philadelphia, and not for another speaker on the dais, Edward Said, tells you something about how Paglia was regarded in the circles in which I traveled.

Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower. She’s fearless. She can be bully-mean and a name caller. She makes some people really, really mad. But she’s also a serious thinker who has been able to write important scholarly books that cross over into a wide readership, and you can regularly find her byline in national magazines, where it’s always a treat to read her sentences. Whether she’s writing about the Obama administration, characterizing cats (in Sexual Personae) as the “autocrats of self-interest,” rhapsodizing about The Real Housewives, or bludgeoning feminists, Christopher Hitchens, or Jon Stewart, she is sometimes right and never boring.

I approached her for this series with trepidation. I was eager to hear what she had to say about writing, but, to be honest, I was a little afraid of her (she called my former boss, Stanley Fish, a “totalitarian Tinkerbell”). Silly me. Camille could not have been more gracious, personable, or fun. She did tell me with a bit of glee that my former employer, Oxford University Press, was one of the seven publishers who rejected Sexual Personae. Thankfully that was before I started working there.

November 1, 2015

Every Press Conference Ever (ft. Weird Al Yankovic)

Filed under: Humour, Media, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Oct 2015

Whether your team wins or loses, this is what the press conference sounds like after the game. Every time.

October 26, 2015

QotD: Canadian political journalism

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is important to understand that, except a few, the journalists are not ideologues. They are, once again, typical products of our drive-in universities, and journalism schools which have, if possible, even lower intellectual standards. They know no history, nor anything much about the topics on which they write, and can be easily mesmerized by a narrative they have themselves written, by rote. Such is the nature of promotion within what has become a niche of the entertainment industry, that those of independent mind and moral fibre are quickly weeded out.

I’m inclined to use the term “progressive” rather than dwell on Left and Right wings, for there is some contrast between, say, MSNBC and Fox in the USA, between CBC and Sun News up here. There is a growing Right — an opposition within the media to itself — but it is not a significant improvement on the monotony that preceded it. The idea that, as a form of entertainment, news coverage should aspire to “tabloid” conditions, and avoid subjects which require knowledge, governed the rightwing impresarios from the start. The Right is fresher and feistier than the Left, and by its Pavlovian habit of reacting to Left agendas, sometimes traps itself in a principled position; but this is a random, not intended effect. Both sides continue to share the post-Christian worship of abstract “liberty,” “equality,” and material “progress.” They clash on who can deliver these empty buckets quicker. But the battle is fought from both sides with the same weaponry — platitudes and clichés — in a kind of unending spiritual Verdun. “Progress” invariably emerges as the victor.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 23, 2015

Adults have co-opted kid culture

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Gavin McInnes isn’t impressed with the ongoing self-infantalization of the adult world, but he’s even less thrilled that even the cartoons are now primarily oriented to adults rather than children:

I’ve oft complained about the infantilization of American adults, but something strange is happening. We’re going from “Comic books aren’t just for kids anymore” to “Comic books are not for kids anymore.” Adults aren’t just participating in kid culture, they’re confiscating it.

We just finished hosting Comic Con here in NYC and the streets were filled with grown-up children dressed as superheroes and characters from kids’ shows. I’m not talking about a dad dressed as Batman because his kid was dressed like that too. There were no kids. Comic Con is for adults now. Eventbrite surveyed 2,600 fans and listed 0% under 13. The vast majority was between 30 and 49.

As a parent trying to give my children a childhood, I find this co-opting of their culture infuriating. In my home, we celebrate “Cartoon Morning” on Saturdays because it’s one of the fondest memories of my own childhood. Looking back, I realize the cartoons we had back then sucked pretty bad. The best it got was Wacky Races, which was just a race between different cartoon characters sabotaging one another. There was no plot. The quality of cartoons today is incredible. The two top broadcasters, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, host mind-blowing, quality shows such as Adventure Time, Regular Show, Clarence, We Bare Bears, The Amazing World of Gumball, Uncle Grandpa, Sanjay and Craig, and of course, Pig Goat Banana Cricket. I’d never watch these on my own, but I believe it’s healthy to watch these shows with your kids because it forges a bond and you often need to explain the story to the younger ones. The problem is, these shows don’t air on Saturday mornings. One of the reasons they’re so good is that they’re not made for kids. They’re made for adults. My kids’ favorite, Sanjay and Craig, airs new episodes at 8:15 p.m. on Fridays and 10:45 Saturday mornings. Kids get up at 7 a.m. They’re bored of cartoons by then. These shows must be adhering to the sleep patterns of grown-ups. When you turn on the TV at 7 a.m. on Saturdays, Nickelodeon is showing a SpongeBob SquarePants marathon and Cartoon Network is doing the same with a terrible show called Teen Titans. That’s the kind of thing on at three in the morning on a Tuesday. Saturday-morning cartoons are officially over.

October 7, 2015

QotD: The long, long history of slavery

Filed under: Africa, Asia, History, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What about slavery? Slavery certainly has its place among the horrors of humanity. But our “educators” today, along with the media, present a highly edited segment of the history of slavery. Those who have been through our schools and colleges, or who have seen our movies or television miniseries, may well come away thinking that slavery means white people enslaving black people. But slavery was a worldwide curse for thousands of years, as far back as recorded history goes.

Over all that expanse of time and space, it is very unlikely that most slaves, or most slave owners, were either black or white. Slavery was common among the vast populations in Asia. Slavery was also common among the Polynesians, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had ever seen a European.

More whites were brought as slaves to North Africa than blacks brought as slaves to the United States or to the 13 colonies from which it was formed. White slaves were still being bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, decades after blacks were freed in the United States.

Thomas Sowell, “Indoctrination by Grievance-Mongers: Anti-American educational elites need a dose of reality”, National Review, 2014-10-15.

September 17, 2015

Megan Geuss watched Star Trek – in order – so you don’t have to

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

By the time I started paying attention to the original Star Trek, it was already in syndication (and aside from the cartoon series, it was the only Star Trek) so I didn’t see the episodes in anything like their original order. Megan Geuss says I (and pretty much everyone else in my age cohort) missed a lot due to this:

Here at Ars Technica, we have Star Trek on the brain. A lot. It’s a thing most of us have strong opinions about, and without a physical office, sometimes the IRC watercooler chat devolves into half-hour-long discussions about the relative merits of such and such a character. That is, until a senior editor implores us to write up our thoughts instead of wasting time arguing idly over chat; we are writers, after all, and writing is what we ought to be doing during the work day.

I, too, have strong opinions about characters in Star Trek, but I came at the show from a much different perspective than most of my peers. My colleagues were astounded when I told them that I’d only seen one episode of Star Trek as a child (I don’t even remember the plot) and my first real exposure had been as an adult, when I watched the entirety of The Original Series and The Next Generation in order, over the course of three years or so.

My colleagues, and in fact almost everyone I meet who I end up talking to about Star Trek, can’t seem to understand why I’d do that. I realized a year ago that this disbelief comes from the fact that almost everyone who did watch Star Trek as a child watched it syndicated on TV, particularly The Original Series. While they may have seen all or close-to-all of the episodes in all the various series, they saw them randomly and sporadically over the course of an entire childhood, with other shows to fill the space in between.

Not I. Thanks to Netflix, I watched The Original Series over a two-year period, with other shows and movies in between, and I watched The Next Generation in a little under one year as my primary after-work TV. From a modern TV viewer’s perspective, the Original Series, with all of its 1960s storytelling quirks and anachronisms, was the hardest entry in Star Trek canon to get through. That’s what I’ll focus on here, because talking about both series from a novice’s point of view would make this article longer than the distance from Earth to the Delta Quadrant.

September 13, 2015

Markets in everything, Fan Expo edition

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Walrus, Jonathan Kay explains how Ron Weasley (and the whole Fan Expo celebrity photo “experience”) made him both sad and $300 poorer:

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Fans of the TV show Entourage will remember the second-season episode in which Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, dressed in prop-wardrobe Viking costume. Drama, we learn, had appeared in a (fictional) show called Viking Quest, starring as the warrior Tarvold. On the fan-convention circuit, Drama explained, he could rake in big money by signing autographs, and set conventioneers’ hearts aflutter with Tarvold’s signature cry of “Victory!” On Entourage, this seemed funny. In real life, I recently learned, it’s sad.

On Sunday, I took two of my daughters to the 2015 instalment of Fan Expo Canada, billed as “the largest Comics, Sci-fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada.” More than 100,000 fans show up annually for the four-day exhibition, which now sprawls over both buildings of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Under one roof, I was able to meet a life-size My Little Pony, compete in a Catan tournament, playtest emerging console video games, commission custom panels from famous cartoonists, pose with life-size Futurama characters, buy a fully functional 3D-chess set, and generally revel in all the various subcultures that the rest of society stigmatizes as dorky and juvenile. My girls and I have been to Fan Expo Canada three years in a row, and we always have a good time.

But my daughters are getting older. This year, for the first time, they were after more than just a Harry Potter wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt: They wanted to meet the real-life Harry Potter movie stars appearing at Fan Expo. Expecting to encounter nothing more than a real-life version of Drama’s Viking Quest subplot, I acquiesced, and we wandered over to celebrity row.

I was shockingly naive about how this process works. Before Sunday’s celebrity adventure, I’d assumed that one could mingle about and snap pictures with fan-con celebs for free, taking out your wallet only when you wanted a signed photo.

In fact, the best way to describe Fan Expo’s celebrity protocol is as a sort of Chicago Mercantile Exchange for human beings. Instead of live cattle, lean hogs, skimmed milk powder, cash-settled butter, and softwood pulp, this big board (displayed above) lists prices for Billy Dee Williams, Gillian Anderson, Danny Trejo, Neve Campbell, Norman Reedus, Skeet Ulrich, Zach Galligan, and fifty other stars and quasi-stars. The precision of the numbers suggests a fine-tuned demand-driven adjustment process that any commodities trader would recognize. Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, but you knew that) was listed at $57. Anderson (X-Files): $91. Danny Trejo (Machete): $74. Neve Campbell (Scream): $97. Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead): $130. Skeet Ulrich (Jericho): $68. Zach Galligan (Gremlins): $63. Just my luck: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s red-haired sidekick) was listed at $142 — highest on the board. I wanted to bail out. But having made the mistake of getting dragged this far, turning back wasn’t going to be a good-dad move.

September 8, 2015

Pessimism and doom-mongering still sells books and movies

Filed under: Books, Environment, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gregg Easterbrook reviews The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey:

Outside your window, living standards are rising, crime is declining, pollution is down, and longevity is increasing. But in pop culture, we’re all doomed. The Hunger Games films have been box-office titans, joined by World War Z, Interstellar, The Book of Eli, Divergent, The Road, and other big-budget Hollywood fare depicting various judgment days. Over in primetime, the world is ending on The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, The 100, and Under the Dome.

The same outlook obtains in nonfiction literature. Books that foresee doomsday — Collapse by Jared Diamond, The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett among them — win praise from commentators and sell briskly. Books contending that things basically are fine don’t do as well. One might think that optimism would be marketable to contemporary book buyers, who live very well by historical standards, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Readers prefer material that depicts them dwelling in the final generation. Perhaps declining religious belief in Armageddon has been replaced by an expectation of some natural-world version of the event.

Into this adverse market steps The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey, an impressively researched, voluminously detailed book arguing that the world is in better shape than commonly assumed. Bailey deflates doomsday by showing that human population growth does not mean ecological breakdown; that food supply increases faster than population and probably always will; that, far from depleted, most resources are sufficient to last for centuries; that air pollution in the United States is way down; and that cancer is in decline.

Specialists will argue about some of the studies Bailey cites to support these contentions. So much environmental research exists today, for example, that one can find a study to prove practically anything. But in the main, Bailey’s selection of research is fastidious and convincing.

Bailey spends too much time, though, on discredited trendy bleakness from the 1960s and 1970s — such as Paul Ehrlich’s global-famine predictions and the 1972 Club of Rome report. One can practically hear dead horses saying, “Stop flogging me.” The End of Doom redeems itself with a clever chapter on how precautionary principles boil down to this rule: never do anything for the first time. “Anything new is guilty until proven innocent,” Bailey writes, but he goes on to chronicle how many new ideas denounced as dangerous turned out instead to make life less risky.

September 4, 2015

America’s grievance culture

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kevin Yuill on the Virginia shootings and what it says about the wider culture in the west:

Had [Some Asshole]* carried out the killing of two ex-colleagues at Virginia TV station WDBJ 10 years ago, it might have been dismissed as just another case of a disgruntled former employee ‘going postal’ – a phrase referencing several incidents from the mid-1980s onwards involving United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shooting and killing fellow workers. But the fact that [Some Asshole]’s shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward was filmed, in a world dominated by YouTube and Facebook, ensured the story gained global coverage.

Predictably, we heard the calls for gun control before the victims’ bodies were cold. Opportunists like broadcaster Piers Morgan, President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton appear to welcome such tragedies so they can sanctimoniously read their pre-prepared statements. As a hysterical Morgan put it, the Virginia shooting ‘sum[med] up [America’s] appalling, senseless gun culture’. This kind of emotive finger-wagging is to be expected. Those on the other side of the political spectrum blamed mental illness. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said of the incident, ‘This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem’.


The Virginia shooting draws attention to disturbing elements of American culture that undercut the simplistic ‘blame the guns’ media coverage. It points to the brittle culture of offence, whereby any behaviour considered disagreeable to some is understood as a personal slight. It touches on the bizarre narcissism of the selfie, in which only moments caught on camera are deemed real. And it indicts a powerful sense of entitlement, in which individuals demand automatic acceptance of who they are from others, and assume that any problems they create are always someone else’s fault.

An experienced newsman, [Some Asshole] also played upon the voyeuristic appetite for online sensation (something the Islamic State has successfully exploited). By filming his murders, he achieved a notoriety far in excess of his ‘going postal’ predecessors. Yet even that notoriety is someone else’s fault, with commentators also blaming Google and Facebook for allowing people to watch what was essentially a snuff movie. This is an evasion of responsibility on the part of all who searched out the video of the shooting.

Rather than blame guns, social media or mental illness for the Virginia shooting, perhaps we should look at the poisonous complaint-and-grievance culture that has flourished as a result of people’s refusal to take responsibility for their lives.

* Rather than give the killer any “glory” by using his name, I’m following the recommendations of the Some Asshole Initiative.

August 31, 2015

Ten years later – how the media covered Katrina

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

W. Joseph Campbell describes the media’s role in contributing to — and sometimes inventing — the persistent myths of what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made land-fall:

I call it the “myth of superlative reporting,” the notion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught 10 years ago, journalists bravely held powerful officials accountable for their inept responses to a storm blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchorman, gave voice to the “myth of superlative reporting,” describing Katrina coverage as “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”

A quintessential great moment is was not.

The reporting of Katrina, as I wrote in my 2010 media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “was in important respects flawed and exaggerated. On crucial details, journalists erred badly, and got it wrong” in describing horrors the storm supposedly unleashed across New Orleans after making landfall east of the city on August 29, 2005.

Journalists reported snipers firing at medical personnel, I noted. They reported shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the Convention Center in New Orleans. They told of bodies being stacked like cordwood inside the Convention Center.

News reports also spoke of roving gangs that terrorized occupants of the Louisiana Superdome, where many people had taken shelter. The reports said children were victims of sexual assault, that one seven-year-old was raped and her throat was slit. They reported that sharks were plying the flooded streets of New Orleans.

None of those reports, as it turned out, was verified or substantiated.

“If anyone rioted,” said a bipartisan congressional report about Katrina, “it was the media.

“Many stories of rape, murder, and general lawlessness were at best unsubstantiated, at worst simply false.”

Erroneous and over-the-top reporting, I wrote in Getting It Wrong, “had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.”

Here’s what I wrote ten years ago, based on the media reports coming out of Louisiana:


August 29, 2015

The bad news about good news

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Strategy Page, an explanation for why most people think the world is going to hell, despite the facts pointing in all kinds of positive and hopeful directions:

One of the ironies of the post-Cold War world is that most people get the impression that things are getting worse and worse while for the majority of people on the planet life is getting better. Worldwide poverty and death rates are plummeting while income and reported (via opinion surveys) satisfaction are way up. Many major diseases (like tetanus and polio) have nearly been eliminated and malaria, the disease that has killed more people than any other throughout history, is in decline because of medical advances. War related deaths have been declining since World War II ended in 1945 and that decline continued after the Cold War eliminated most communist governments in 1991. Why do most people think otherwise? You can blame the mass media and their most effective marketing tool; FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

Mass media first appeared in the mid-19th century with the development of the steam press, which made cheap-enough-to-reach-a-mass-audience newspapers possible. Editors quickly learned that FUD sells best. Politicians, rebels, and even advertisers found that FUD was a very effective tool to grab attention and change attitudes. Put another way, excitement sells, and the best way to excite readers is to scare them.

Modern terrorism, based on using murderous mass attacks on the public to trigger a flurry of media coverage, came out of this. The 19th century anarchists, followed by the Bolsheviks (communists), several fascist movements (like the Nazis), and many others, all used this media proclivity to jump on terrorist acts in order to scare readers into buying more newspapers, or supporting some extremist cause or another. The terrorists got the publicity and attention they wanted, which sometimes led to acquiring political power as well.

Radio appeared in the 1930s and this made it even easier to reach literate as well as illiterate populations. Combining radio and FUD allowed communism and fascism to spread far and fast in the 1930s. The sad fact is that this situation is not unknown among journalists. Many of them have been complaining about it for over a century. No one has been able to come up with a solution. Good news doesn’t sell. And the pursuit of scary headlines that do has created a race to the bottom.

It’s probably rational for mass media outlets to concentrate on the vivid, shocking bad news … because it grabs the attention and sells more newspapers and encourages more people to watch video reports. Good news? Well, it’s nice to hear, but it’s neither urgent nor compelling (except cat videos on YouTube, of course). You might like to hear it, but it’s not urgent and compelling … you can catch up on that anytime. A flood? An earthquake? A breaking story about a hostage situation? You’ll pay attention whether you want to or not. And that sells newspapers and gets ad revenue for networks.

August 14, 2015

Toronto discovers the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I was in the break room at work the other day, and happened to see our local 24-hour TV newsfeed was discussing a hateful hate-peddling hate-monger who’d just arrived in Toronto. A shorter blurb was running in the elevator monitor, as I discovered when I went downstairs for lunch. While I’d heard of Roosh V. before, I wasn’t aware that he was so well known to the Toronto media. Richard Anderson explains how Toronto’s media reactions to Daryush Valizadeh have been like a multi-million dollar gift of free advertising:

Rather than being a raving misogynist Valizadeh espouses an odd amalgam of traditional gender roles and casual sex advice. Very little of what he writes would have been considered terribly controversial even twenty years ago. His criticisms of feminism are pretty much standard conservative fare albeit expressed in a more colourful and direct manner. He might not be your cup of tea but he’s hardly the second coming of Caligula.

Displaying the self-righteous puritanism that is characteristic of modern feminism, a petition has been set-up at Change.org, complete with out of context quotes, demanding that Valizadeh be driven from Canada. This is being done on the grounds of our old friend hate speech. Apparently coaching awkward young men on how to pick up women in bars is now a crime in modern Canada.

Some of Valizadeh’s sexual advice is tacky or creepy. It would, however, take a Pollyanna’s understanding of human sexuality to find it either hateful or angry. What we are seeing is not criticism being directed at an individual for espousing somewhat recherché views, it’s an electronic lynch mob attempting to silence dissent from the feminist consensus.

Until this recent controversy Valizadeh was an obscure figure outside of Manosphere. Now thanks to these tin eared feminist campaigners he has been given millions of dollars in free publicity. It’s a classic example of the Streisand effect. Instead of shutting Valizadeh down they’ve elevated him into a kind of cult hero status that is only likely to increase in the months ahead.

QotD: When “the science” shows what you want it to show

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To see what I mean, consider the recent tradition of psychology articles showing that conservatives are authoritarian while liberals are not. Jeremy Frimer, who runs the Moral Psychology Lab at the University of Winnipeg, realized that who you asked those questions about might matter — did conservatives defer to the military because they were authoritarians or because the military is considered a “conservative” institution? And, lo and behold, when he asked similar questions about, say, environmentalists, the liberals were the authoritarians.

It also matters because social psychology, and social science more generally, has a replication problem, which was recently covered in a very good article at Slate. Take the infamous “paradox of choice” study that found that offering a few kinds of jam samples at a supermarket was more likely to result in a purchase than offering dozens of samples. A team of researchers that tried to replicate this — and other famous experiments — completely failed. When they did a survey of the literature, they found that the array of choices generally had no important effect either way. The replication problem is bad enough in one subfield of social psychology that Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to its practitioners, urging them to institute tougher replication protocols before their field implodes. A recent issue of Social Psychology was devoted to trying to replicate famous studies in the discipline; more than a third failed replication.

Let me pause here to say something important: Though I mentioned bias above, I’m not suggesting in any way that the replication problems mostly happen because social scientists are in on a conspiracy against conservatives to do bad research or to make stuff up. The replication problems mostly happen because, as the Slate article notes, journals are biased toward publishing positive and novel results, not “there was no relationship, which is exactly what you’d expect.” So readers see the one paper showing that something interesting happened, not the (possibly many more) teams that got muddy data showing no particular effect. If you do enough studies on enough small groups, you will occasionally get an effect just by random chance. But because those are the only studies that get published, it seems like “science has proved …” whatever those papers are about.

Megan McArdle, “The Truth About Truthiness”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-08.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress